Raptors-Suns Preview

P.J. Tucker didn’t get much of an opportunity with the Toronto

Raptors after they drafted him seven years ago. It’s taken quite a

while, but he seems to finally be making an impact in the NBA.

Tucker looks to build on one of the best games of his career and

tries to help deal more misery to his former team, coming off a

deflating performance, as the Phoenix Suns host the skidding

Raptors on Friday night.

Selected 35th overall in the 2006 draft after winning Big 12

player of the year honors at Texas, Tucker appeared in only 17

games for Toronto and would get waived late in his rookie season.

He ended up spending the next five years playing internationally,

not returning to the NBA until being signed by Phoenix (10-9)

before last season.

“Me getting cut from Toronto that first year, definitely helped

with the ego,” Tucker told the Suns’ official website in

October.

He’s become their starting small forward and while his role on

offense is limited, Tucker is considered by most of the Suns to be

their top defender. That certainly proved to be the case Wednesday,

when he held Houston All-Star James Harden to 14 points and 3 of 17

from the field in a 97-88 victory.

“We usually put P.J. on the best (player) on the other team.

That’s what P.J. does, he loves defense,” coach Jeff Hornacek said.

“He loves getting after guys and he takes pride in it. He’s really

made a mark in this league by doing that.”

Tucker also matched a season high with 18 points and shot 8 of

13 from the field. He had four steals, raising his team-leading

total to 27, as Phoenix held the league’s highest-scoring team to

its lowest point total and worst shooting percentage (35.2) of the

season.

“He’s the glue to our defense because he takes the challenge of

guarding the team’s best player on the court and he tries to lock

them down when it’s hard to,” said Eric Bledsoe, who led Phoenix

with 20 points.

Tucker’s challenge now will be to help slow down DeMar DeRozan

or Rudy Gay, who combine to average 41.4 points.

That duo accounted for 44 on Wednesday, but the Raptors were

victimized by the biggest comeback of the NBA season as they blew a

27-point lead in the second half en route to a 112-103 defeat at

Golden State.

“It’s one of those where they started hitting the 3 in the third

quarter and we couldn’t turn the water off,” coach Dwane Casey

said. “We did an excellent job in the first three quarters and then

we couldn’t score in the fourth quarter.”

Toronto (6-11) gave up 112 points for the second straight game

and is letting opponents shoot 49.8 percent from the field during a

four-game losing streak.

Phoenix is among the league’s best shooting teams at 46.3

percent. Goran Dragic is at 53.7 over the past five games while

averaging 21.8 points.

Fellow point guard Kyle Lowry is averaging 19.0 points during

the Raptors’ four-game skid. They’re 1-6 when he scores at least

15.

Toronto has won the last three meetings, including two at

Phoenix, after losing 14 in a row.